Labor unions end proxy fight at Starbucks after bargaining progress

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Steph Kronos, a pro-union activist, tries to talk to Starbucks customers while joining Starbucks workers, former employees and supporters in holding signs in support of a strike, outside of a Starbucks store in Arlington, Virginia, on Nov. 16, 2023.Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

A group of labor unions said on Tuesday that it was ending its proxy fight at Starbucks, after the two sides agreed last week to work toward a "foundational framework" on collective bargaining.

"We feel that now is the time to acknowledge the progress that has been made and to allow the Company and its workers to focus on moving forward," the Strategic Organizing Center said in a release.

The SOC said it is withdrawing the three nominees it had put forth for election to Starbucks' board.

A Starbucks spokesperson said the company appreciated the SOC's decision and said the board remained focused on "driving long-term value for all stakeholders, including partners, shareholders, customers, and farmers."

The cessation comes after two influential proxy advisors, Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis, both recommended that shareholders vote for management board nominees.

The organization had argued that Starbucks had responded to a yearslong union push with a "flawed" strategy that diminished shareholder returns and presented reputational risk. The SOC said in its proxy filings that the company's response to widespread unionization efforts had cost the company nearly $250 million.

Last week's agreement marked a turning point for the unions and management, the SOC said in its release. The group said it thought shareholders were "optimistic" about a "good faith" effort by Starbucks to "repair its relationship with its workers."

"Starbucks has always been committed to doing the right thing — importantly, for our partners who are the heart of our business," the company's spokesperson said.

The fight would have been unusual given the small size of the SOC's economic interest and the composition of the group. It was the first time that a labor union — typically opposed to activist campaigns — had drawn on the activist toolkit.

Labor unions end proxy fight at Starbucks after bargaining progress

The SOC hired well-respected communications, legal and proxy advisors who have worked on behalf of major activists and hedge funds. Together, they built a thesis that drew a line from slipshod bargaining tactics to weakened shareholder returns.

"We think it's imperative that shareholders continue to monitor the Board's performance and Starbucks' approach to labor relations issues in the coming months — and we plan to continue to hold the Company accountable going forward," the labor group said in a statement.

Starbucks' annual shareholder meeting is scheduled for March 13.

"We look forward to continuing to work alongside our partners as we fulfill our mission together," the Starbucks spokesperson said.

watch nowVIDEO2:1602:16Labor coalition accuses Starbucks of ‘flawed’ union strategySquawk Box

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